Much improved second-half performance saves Malawi from humiliation


Malawi National Football Team on Friday lost 2-0 away to Egypt in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) first leg match played at 23 June Stadium in Cairo.

The two teams had three points each before the encounter having won one and lost one in their first two qualifying matches last year.

But Egypt, led by Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, were in total control of the match especially in the first half where they attacked from all angles and should have had more than three goals had it been they were clinical in front of goals.

Flames’ decision to sit too deep into their half, with a 4-4-2 formation, invited pressure from the hosts who, for the first time since 2015, had fans inside the Stadium following their government’ decision to lift a ban imposed on the supporters.

With Stanley Sanudi suspended due to the accumulation of yellow cards, Marian Mario Marinica opted to use Charles Petro as a right back, with Gomezgani Chirwa operating from the left.

The Egyptians spotted some weaknesses in Petro, and they attacked more from his area, resulting into dangerous balls that kept Malawi’s defense busy throughout the opening minutes of the match.

In the seventh minute, Lawrence Chaziya intercepted a very dangerous pass from Salah, which would have landed straight at Omar Marmoush who was ready to pull the trigger.

The hosts were coming wave after wave and they should have taken a lead in the 12th minute through Tarek Hamed who produced a powerful header from Salah’ freekick but he was denied by the goal post.

But Malawi’s luck run out in the 20th minute when the Flames lost possesion midway into their own half and allowed the hosts to launch a stunning counter-hurricane attack through Mostafe Muhamed who found Mohamed Hamdi to the left-flank of the field.

The winger made his way into the far left before sending a very dangerous pass to Salah who was unmarked inside the penalty box to hit the ball with power into the back of the net, 1-0.

One would have turned into two when Charles Thom made a school-boy error to gift the Pharaohs a ball in the dangerous position but he was very fortunate to see the ball outside his goal area as the hosts failed to capitalize on the mistake even though they won a corner which was easily defended by the visitors.

Flames had no goal scoring opportunity in this half, a development that reduced the Egyptians’ goalkeeper Mohamed El Shenawy to a mere spectator.

The Flames, known for their tendency of conceding late, were at it again as they allowed the hosts to double their lead in the additional minutes of the first half.

Chirwa had lost possesion to Salah who wasted no time to find Marmoush on the edge of the penalty box.

The VFL Volsburg striker released a powerful drive that was deflected into the net by Petro, beating his own goalkeeper who was way out of his line, 2-0.

After the recess, Marinica made two changes to his team by pulling out Khuda Myaba and Francisco Madinga for Peter Banda and Stain Davie as he tried to improve his attacking prowess that had no shot at goal in the entire 45 minutes.

The changes brought some relief to the depleted side especially through Banda who produced some good passes and made some good moves but he only lasted for less than 15 minutes as he seemed to have dislocated his shoulder and he was also replaced by Yamikani Chester.

The Egyptians kept on knocking, but it was a much improved defensive play from Malawi that saw Salah and Marmoush struggling to break into the penalty box to cause havoc just like in the first half.

Petro, who struggled to cope with pressure, exerted by the hosts, was a better player in the final half as he closed down Hamdi and Marmoush, stopping them from posing more threat to the visitors.

Emam Ashour replaced Mahmoud Hamada for the hosts in the 68th minute.

Salah should have doubled his tally in the 74th minute when he found himself to the receiving end of Hamdi’s cross but his header went straight to Thom who was well positioned.

At the other end, Malawi created their first realistic goal scoring opportunity from Gabadinho Mhango’s well taken freekick that found Davie unmarked inside the six-yard box but the Silver Strikers forward misjudged the ball as he failed to connect home from a close range.

Davie was at it again moments later when he was set through by Mhango only to shoot his ball over the crossbar on the edge of the eighteen-yard box.

With less than 13 minutes left to play, Marinica introduced Chimwemwe Idana for Micium Mhone to try to get something from the game but failure by the visitors to keep possesion and let alone to complete atleast five passes minimized their chances of scoring a goal even though they defended well in this final half.

Marmoush almost registered his second goal of the match when he connected well from Salah’s excellent delivery into the box but Thom was very alert with a brilliant save.

The Egyptians last minute push for more goals left them frustrated, with Salah losing possession anyhow to Dennis Chembezi and Chirwa who were brilliant towards the end of the match and any attempt for more goals from the hosts were cut out by the visitors who were growing with confidence and defended well to only concede the first half goals as they travel back to Malawi for the return leg at BNS and in the end, 2-0 it ended.

The result means Malawi are bottom of Group D with three points having won one against Ethiopia and have now lost twice to Guinea and Egypt.

This means Marinica’s charges have to win at all cost on Tuesday if they are to revive their qualifying chances.

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